It was 1965 in London, the transition from postwar timidness to full-blown hedonistic revolution had taken place. Skirts had risen to the shocking height of six inches above the knee, the Rolling Stones were terrifying parents across the country...and I had somehow drifted into modeling.
I say that because I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but things did just happen in those days. I was barely eighteen, living with Jaqueline Bisset in Chesham Street – a smart address, close to the Kings Road, except that our two room flat, untouched since World War 2, was hopelessly run down.
The bathroom was downstairs. There was no kitchen. Just a hot plate and a sink hidden behind a curtain suspended across our “living room.” We rarely ate there. The idea was not to eat much at all as we were on permanent diets. Jackie and I had similar fifties bodies, with large breasts—hardly suitable for modeling, which by then demanded greyhound-thin girls. We also had unfashionably curly hair, which had to be straightened daily with hot irons.
I was a country girl with a moon face, so that even with thick make-up, black eyeliner and caked-on mascara, I exuded an air of virginal saintliness. Something that men seemed anxious to remove.
I went to see a photographer, I remember, who had a studio in St John’s Wood. He was the traditional, upper class type, dressed in a tweed hunting jacket and a cravat - someone who’d taken up photography to meet girls. After flicking through my box of pictures, he looked up and said, rather dubiously, “Well, I might be able to use you. Of course, you understand, Fiona, there will have to be a bit of pokery-poo—” Five years earlier, a well-mannered Englishman wouldn’t have dared to bring up the subject of sex unless he was blind drunk. Now, things were wide open—though in his case, there had been no time (or necessity) to master the art of seduction. Taken aback, I looked at him stupidly – which, naturally, he took as a Yes. And so catapulting me backwards over the sofa, he tried to shove it in quickly without the bother of removing my underpants. I managed to blurt out, “I have to meet my MOTHER for lunch!” The word mother seemed to work. He backed off.
Jackie was more sophisticated than I was, and she had boyfriends - some of them well-known photographers.
Fashion photographers were gods. Particularly the cocky working-class boys who’d made enough money to buy houses in Holland Park and who were now congratulating themselves for being able to take nice middle-class girls to dinner.
Terry Donovan, was one of them. An East End boy, close friend of David Bailey, he would arrive to pick her up by giving a few blasts on the car horn from the street. You didn’t encourage men to see how you lived. But one night, he came up. I was cooking my usual dinner of fried eggs and bacon on the hot plate. I remember the sound of his Chelsea boots on the stairs, then his confident mocking voice calling to Jackie who was still in the bathroom, ironing her hair.
“Blimey, darlin’, smells like a bloody chip shop in here. Mind you don’t stink up the Rolls!”
Stay tuned for more stories about London in the sixties…